Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 12.djvu/48

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38
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

foul burrows, while their neighbors preferred a manlier way of securing themselves against enemies and wild beasts, and saved themselves from the glow of the midsummer sun by cultivating shade-trees. "Herodotus speaks of persecutions," the doctor remarks, "but this fixed custom of theirs may perhaps be attributed to vicious habit, strengthened by hereditary transmission, quite as much as to necessity, for men can become fond of vitiated air, as they contract a passion for fermented drink or decayed food."

It seems really so, if we reflect on the hereditary perversity of millions of Europeans and North American citizens, who in the midst of social security, and without the excuse of the persecuted Nubians, insist on secluding themselves and their children in the foul atmosphere of tenement-houses, factories, and workshops, which might just as cheaply be supplied with pure as with warm air.

The air we breathe, which a great English physician calls gaseous food, may become impure to the degree of being indigestible to our lungs and utterly unfit for the performance of functions which are quite as important as those of our solid and fluid victuals. Dull headaches, nausea, loss of appetite and of the sense of smell, and the sadness produced by the unsatisfied hunger after oxygen, are only incidental and secondary evils; the great principal curse of the troglodyte-habit is its influence on the respiratory organs. In 1853, when Hanover and other parts of Northern Germany were visited by a very malignant kind of small-pox, the great anatomist Langenbeck tried to discover "the peculiarity of organic structure which disposes one man to catch the disease while his neighbor escapes. . . . I have cut up more human bodies than the Old Man of the Mountain with all his accomplices," he writes from Göttingen in his semi-annual report, "and, speaking only of my primary object, I must confess that I am no wiser than before. But, though the mystery of small-pox has eluded my search, my labors have not been in vain; they have revealed to me something else—the origin of consumption. I am sure now of what I suspected long ago, viz., that pulmonary diseases have very little to do with intemperance or with erotic excesses, and much less with cold weather, but are nearly exclusively (if we except tuberculous tendencies inherited from both parents, I say quite exclusively) produced by the breathing of foul air. The lungs of all persons, minors included, who had worked for some years in close workshops and dusty factories, showed the germs of the fatal disease, while confirmed inebriates, who had passed their days in open air, had preserved their respiratory organs intact, whatever inroads their excesses had made on the rest of their system. If I should go into practice and undertake the cure of a consumptive, I should begin by driving him out into the Deister (a densely-wooded mountain-range of Hanover), and prevent him from entering a house for a year or two."

The ablest pathologists of the present time incline to the same